By Martin Banks - 12th October 2011
It has fantastic potential
Parliament's top brass have angrily hit back at suggestions that the assembly's new visitor centre is a "waste of money".
Speaking at the centre's official opening on Tuesday, parliament's president Jerzy Buzek said "everyone can feel proud" of the attraction.
At the same time, he conceded that the EU still faced a challenged in selling the merits of the EU, saying, "I accept that we will need to reach out to citizens in order to ignite their passion for the EU."
The idea for the centre, called the Parliamentarium, was first mooted six years ago. It will be open to the public for the first time on Friday.
It is said to be the second biggest of its type in the world and is expected to attract 450,000 people every year.
But some MEPs have attacked what they call the rising cost of building such a centre at a time of austerity cuts.
UKIP deputy Marta Andreasen said the cost had risen by 32 per cent, from €15.3m to €23.5m.
But, on Wednesday, parliament's press service hit back, insisting that her figures were "quite incorrect".
A parliament spokesman told this website, "In 2005 when the project was given the go-ahead by the bureau, the estimated cost was €15.3m plus the cost of the infrastructure work, which amounted to €3.25 million.
"So a fair comparison is the final cost which is €21.7m against an estimate of €18.55m."
In his speech to invited guests, including queen Astrid of Belgium, Buzek said, "We can be proud of this building. We always hear that it is those people in Brussels who are deciding this and that and what we do here is far removed from citizens' expectations.
"Communicating the EU is not an easy task, but I believe that this new centre will help facilitate this task. It has fantastic potential and I am convinced that it will be a success.
"It puts the work of the whole EU into context and I think it will touch the hearts and minds of all visitors."
Despite his defence of the centre, criticism continued on Wednesday, with UK Tory MEP Geoffrey Van Orden saying, "It is another example of EU extravagance.
"I ask you – where else do you see such spending on this lavish scale? It is just endless.
"Parliament already has 62 buildings in addition to the glass palace in Brussels."